Albert Lea teachers, thanks for your service

Published 9:45 am Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Guest Column by Marty Smith

As a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as someone who puts on a military uniform every day, I often cross paths with people who say, “Thank you for your service.”

Marty Smith

Marty Smith

It is a phrase now commonly expressed by American patriots upon encountering a military member.

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Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate their appreciation, but in all honesty, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. I’m not sure my service is worthy of thanks — though my wife and kid’s service through sacrifice is undoubtedly laudable.

My service is a job, lifestyle, a calling. I didn’t pursue my career for thanks, or even out of a sense of service. I did it for the excitement, the adventure and challenge. I did it because my third-grade teacher, Dorothy Justesen, wasn’t sure I could.

I remember I was in the third grade when the movie “Top Gun” was playing at the old Broadway Theater. After seeing the aircraft, attitudes and excitement exuded from the big screen, I had to tell Mrs. Justesen the very next day that I was going to be a pilot.

She, understandably, chuckled — I was her problem child. Still, she never gave up on me, and her skepticism was motivating. I was going to show her I could make it happen.

I would like to thank her for her service. I would like to thank all my teachers for their service. As you can guess, I was not a model student coming up in the Albert Lea school system.

In fact, when I was in the first grade, my teacher told my parents I was the first first-grader she ever had to give detention. Throughout elementary school, I spent significant time in the principal’s office. I will bet, nearly 30 years later, that Principal Harlan Bang still remembers my name. My parents certainly remember his phone calls.

Thankfully, not one of my teachers gave up on my education. Even as I failed to contain my class clown urges or to channel my energy in positive ways, they continued molding me through teaching.

The late Arlan Kleinbeck, my fifth-grade teacher, was the first to laugh with me. I can still hear his laugh echoing down the second floor hallway of Hawthorne Elementary School. It started low and deep and seemed to end on a high note.

Thank you for your service, Mr. K. Thank you for laughing with me and, just as important, thank you for focusing my interest in science and math.

As I made my way through junior high and high school, and continued to exhibit less-than-model behavior, so many other teachers went out of their way to serve me through quality education.

I thank Lilah Aas, who made me remove my hat in 10th grade English class.

I thank Kurt Barickman, my high school history teacher, for engaging my interest in Ancient Greece and even more so for taking the time, outside of class, to field my many questions on the topic.

I thank Jim Haney for sparking my interest in law and for the enthusiasm he brought with him to class every day.

I thank Hank Guze and Michelle Sonnega, 12th-grade humanities teachers, for exposing me to classic literature, cultures and art from all over the world.

I thank Bob Rowe. He agreed to let me skip a math level to get the calculus credit I needed to apply to specific colleges; he got me through it, with a lot of extra help.

I thank Rod Johnson, my student council adviser, for shaping my interest in leadership and for being as excited as me when I got my Air Force Academy acceptance letter.

Finally, I thank my mother-in-law, Bonnie Wedge, a retired educator who teaches me (and my children) to this day.

There are many teachers I leave out by name, surely too many to list, but so many whose teaching legacy others and I carry into work, college and life. As another school year wraps up, and my wife and I prepare to send our daughter off to kindergarten next fall, I thank all teachers for their service. And I hope, one day, thanking teachers for their service is gratitude commonly expressed.


Marty Smith is a major in the U.S. Air Force and a 1996 graduate of Albert Lea High School.